“Woman’s Hundred Faces” – 「女百面相」
from Woman’s Hundred Faces: Film Stories – 『女百面相：映画小説』(1922)
That’s all Folks!
…just kidding, I still need to ruin yer immersion!
[Comics] and Literature in a “Woman’s World”
Because nowadays, when you say men’s magazine or women’s magazine, things like FHM or Playboy or Cosmopolitan or Redbook spring to mind, assuming any of those are even still in existence by the time you read this, it is key to bear in mind that when I note that “Woman’s Hundred Faces” was originally serialized in Fujokai (Woman’s World), something rather different is implied than monthly invocations of sexist stereotypes. To be sure, Fujokai was not without its own presumptive drek about woman’s domesticity, but it was also a primary literary outlet. Women’s reading habits, like women themselves, were a pop anthropological obsession in prewar Japan, in large part because keeping up on the literature of the day was considered a mark of respectability among contemporary housewives, just as modern book clubs (I’m looking at you, Oprah) have a somewhat feminized cast, despite not being exclusively populated by women.
It would also be a mistake, despite their being published in a “woman’s magazine,” to assume that these texts have a specifically female demographic in mind. Tanizaki’s Chijin no ai (Naomi), one of the texts of modern Japanese literature, which sparked its own modest sexual revolution, was first serialized in a newspaper, the Osaka Asahi Shinbun, but finished its run in the women’s magazine Josei (Woman). This means novels that were originally conceived as being for a general readership quite often found themselves printed in the pages of women’s magazines. And it was not just Tanizaki, at one point or another the literary output of Izumi Kyōka, Kikuchi Kan, Kume Masao, Kazuo Hirotsu, Kawaguchi Matsutarō, Yoshiya Nobuko, and many others appeared in the pages of women’s magazines.
Ippei as well. His manga shōsetsu titled Hito no isshō (1927), for instance, was, like Tanizaki’s Naomi, originally serialized in a newspaper, the Asahi Shinbun, then later finished running in Fujokai. On their surface, Ippei’s film stories might be read as quaint domestic comedies, fodder for the much maligned and quite often stereotyped pedestrian predilections of bored housewives, and a superficial understanding of women’s magazines in prewar Japan would certainly buttress that reading. However, the historical print milieu in which Ippei’s manga quite often found itself was neither decidedly middle brow nor exclusively for women, even if the print matter where they appeared was, presumably, for the female of the species. In fact, given what is readily apparent about the kinds of stories regularly published in newspapers and magazines, it is entirely possible that Ippei’s manga aspired to a certain high literary status.
No, that is not quite it either, for the low and middle brow is never explicitly rejected in such a venue. Rather, popular print matter makes no meaningful distinction between high, middle, and low. A now classic work of modern Japanese fiction appeared right beside cleaning tips, just as Ippei’s manga sat on the very same pages that advertised hair creams and cosmetics. This literary miscegenation so readily apparent in print periodicals was a recurring theme in the second chapter of [Comics] as Reading. All apologies for quoting myself, but I put it much better there.
What exactly, then, does a print periodical, this textual object in which [comics] are so often found but not perfectly identifiable with them, “have in mind?” One could speak of periodicals (pl.), material things disseminated according to certain, generally serial, conditions, the knowledge of which survives imperfectly in a number of formats, analog and digital. One could also speak of a—I hesitate to say the—print periodical (sing.), whose identity is more or less elusive. It is, to put it far too simply, a multi-modal conceptual framework that one might readily identify in periodicals (pl.) but has metastasized well beyond them into media (or textual) conditions one would likely never identify as such, a webpage, for instance. It is a framework for distributing a number of graphic—understood here in terms of both [etched] images and writing—objects in a layout where they might potentially be read as discrete or in tandem. Layout implies no necessary relationship between these objects nor does it exclude relationship, precisely because such a juncture or distinction originates not in “the text itself” but in any given reading of a periodical (sing.). A print periodical (sing.) embeds graphic objects, even where one might identify a thousand periodicals (pl.) where no such arrangement of disparate elements seems to exist. A print periodical (sing.) does not necessitate such a layout but remains always amenable to it. This is why we can take any of the seemingly singular [comic] texts, like the many “graphic novels” we are now saddled with, and read them in terms of a print periodical (sing.) framework that at first glance they appear not to resemble.
Discrete or in tandem. When Ippei’s eiga and manga shōsetsu were later collected in book form as unified, discrete texts, that fact alone, like the later republication of Tanizaki’s Naomi in paperback, does not overwrite any reading of those works in a serial framework. And this phenomenon is not limited to Japan. After all, works by Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret Atwood et al. all appeared in the pages of Playboy. Just because critics so often casually disregard the ramifications of literary artifacts appearing in periodicals does not mean they are not amenable to such an understanding. In fact, as in the case of Ippei’s work, it may point to the literary aspirations of a kind of text that historically was not read in those terms, long before even the idea of a “graphic novel” was a dream of the [comics] imaginary.